SkinCare Physicians

Cold sores: Get the basics on a painful skin condition

Published on Oct 29th, 2015 by Tania Phillips

Cold sore on lip

You may be one of these people who got his/her first painful cold sore last summer. Don’t be surprised, the sun exposure can trigger cold sores, also called fever blisters, and 90% of us will get at least one in our lifetime. The good news is that the first occurrence of a cold sore is often the worst and only 40% of American adults will develop fever blisters frequently. Our Boston dermatologists encourage you to learn the basics about cold sores in case you get another one.

What are cold sores

sores are caused by a virus called herpes simplex type 1. They are also known as fever blisters or herpes labialis. Once a person gets the herpes virus, the virus never leaves the body, but it can stay dormant. Cold sores appear as grouped blisters, usually on the lips or just inside the mouth. Triggering factors include fevers, the common cold, exposure to sunlight, and stress. They are infectious and can be transmitted from one person to another by skin to skin contact.

What to expect

Often before a cold sore appears there can be a tingling, itchy or burning sensation on the lips. About a day later, small blisters will appear. Sometimes these can become yellowish in appearance and break down to leave open areas of skin which may become crusted. They heal on their own within 2 – 4 weeks.

When a patient develops cold sores for the first time, they can develop fevers, neck stiffness, headaches and enlarged lymph nodes. Cold sores can be confirmed by your doctor by doing a special test called a Tzanck smear or by sending a swab from the area to confirm growth of herpes simplex virus.

Cold sore treatments

Unfortunately, there is no cure for herpes simplex. Many cold sores will clear without any treatment. Antiviral creams or ointments can sometimes help with symptoms of itching or burning. Oral medications can be prescribed by a dermatologist at the onset of symptoms to decrease the severity of the outbreak of cold sores. Some patients who get very frequent outbreaks of cold sores require daily treatment with antiviral therapy. Over the counter products, such as anesthetic gel, can help with discomfort from the blisters.

The dos and don’ts

  • If you know that your outbreaks are triggered by sunburn, make sure to apply liberal sunscreens to the affected areas.
  • If you have open sores on your face, you should avoid skin to skin contact with anyone and do not share items such as lipstick, cups or silverware.
  • You should wash your hands after touching cold sores.

If you experience severe outbreaks of cold sores, come see us. Our dermatologists at SkinCare Physicians near Boston can offer treatment options.

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Chestnut Hill, MA (617) 731-1600

SkinCare Physicians®
1244 Boylston Street (Route 9)
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts 02467

Phone: (617) 731-1600 Fax: (617) 731-1601

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SkinCare Physicians®
1244 Boylston Street (Route 9)
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts 02467

Phone: (617) 731-1600 Fax: (617) 731-1601

Medical Website Design & Marketing by Etna Interactive

The dermatologists and other medical professionals at SkinCare Physicians specialize in a wide range of dermatology treatments and services, including laser hair removal, laser skin treatment, hair transplant, eyelid surgery, body contouring, psoriasis, skin cancer, BOTOX® Cosmetic, fillers, and Thermage®. From their offices in Chestnut Hill, they serve Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Newton and Wellesley.